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VALENCIA (Jeff Taylor's London Calling) -Austin Rivers stole the limelight this week when he hit a shot at the buzzer to give Duke an 85-84 win at North Carolina.
It wasn't just any shot.
It was a shot for the ages in the greatest rivalry in American college basketball.
It was the play of the day, the play of the week, the play of the year.
Heck, it may end up being the play of the decade.
The shot was like a punch to the stomach for Tar Heels, at least it was for me.
In the old days, a performance like the one Rivers put on against Carolina when he was six of 10 from long range and had a game-high 29 points would have pushed him toward Olympic stardom.
We Americans had fresh-faced collegians in our Olympic teams in those days.
Go online and hunt down video footage of the 1972 Olympics and see how young Doug Collins was.
Look at 1976 and gauge the age of point guard Phil Ford.
Check out Steve Alford in the 1984 team, or David Robinson in 1988.
It was a source of pride for Americans to know their college players were going to Olympic Games and taking on the rest of the world.
Everything changed at the 1992 Olympics, when the most famous basketball team of all time took the court in Barcelona.
The United States Dream Team had 11 NBA stars and one collegian, Christian Laettner, and romped to the gold medal.
Laettner had also played at Duke.
The American college players went to Olympic Games believing they would win gold medals.
The 1988 team saw their gold-medal hopes die in an 82-76 defeat to the Soviet Union.
“Nothing that happens will ever vindicate not winning the gold medal,” said Dan Majerle, the leading scorer of that USA team, several years later.
“That was such a special team with Robinson and (Danny) Manning.
“I thought we had a good enough team to win.”
Robinson would go on to play for the Dream Team.
The introduction of NBA players to the Olympics in 1992 was not a bad thing.
Far from it.
Interest in the sport worldwide exploded.
Olympic competitions are better today.
There is something special, though, about a college player like Rivers who is on a journey to stardom.
"When it went in, my heart jumped,” said Rivers after he emerged from the bottom of a pile of celebrating Duke players on the Smith Center court.
“It was the best feeling I've ever had in my life."
His father, Boston Celtics coach Doc Rivers, was at the game and he was so excited that he jumped up and down in the stands like it was the greatest moment in his life, too.
Mike Krzyzewski, the Duke coach, is also the USA coach.
He’ll be in London.
Something he said after the Carolina game made me wonder, what if?
"That's what he's been put on this earth to do," Krzyzewski said of Rivers.
"To hit a game-winner like that is just storybook."

Jeff Taylor

FIBA’s columnists write on a wide range of topics relating to basketball that are of interest to them. The opinions they express are their own and in no way reflect those of FIBA.

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